Annual child fatality report calls attention to dangerous trends
by Yustin Riopko
CHARLOTTE – County leaders and health experts are concerned about child suicide and infant deaths.
The Mecklenburg Community Child Fatality Prevention and Protection Team just filed its annual report on child deaths and associated risk factors. Team chairman Bob Simmons presented findings June 19 to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
Because of a data processing delay, this year’s report used data from 2016.
Eight of the 49 deaths of children ages 1 to 17 in 2016 were suicides. Previously, the most child suicides in a year had been seven (2012).
The organization’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 32 percent of CMS high school students reported feeling depressed and 17 percent reported thinking of committing suicide.
Simmons commended commissioners for funding initiatives in next year’s budget that support families and caregivers, as well as provide emotional support resources in schools.
“One of the most important things is trying to figure out how to reduce the types of means [of suicide],” Simmons said. “Particularly in homes where there are children who are suffering
difficulties – depression, confusion adjusting to their lives. Reducing means in a home is one of the most important things parents can do and often it’s difficult to do that.”
The youngest person to commit suicide in 2016 was 12 years old.
At 56 percent, the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 17 was “natural causes,” which include birth defects, infections and body systems diseases.
Other causes of death for this age group included motor vehicle incidents (16 percent) and homicide (10 percent).
Eight of the 104 infant deaths recorded by the Child Fatality Prevention Team in 2016 were the result of accidental suffocation. According to Simmons, most of those deaths involved co-sleeping with a caregiver or siblings. Simmons stressed that babies sleep safest alone, on their backs, in cribs.
Simmons called the problem “unsafe sleep,” and said the problem spans North Carolina and farther. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham believes education is the best thing for combating this kind of infant fatality.
“I have learned recently myself about safe sleep,” Cotham said. “I had heard of it, but never gotten into the details of it. For the first time in my life a few months ago, I knew this young woman who just had a baby. I was cooing over it, and I asked her, ‘Where’s your baby sleeping?’”
The woman replied, “We really don’t have any place, so she just sleeps with me in my bed.”
That was when the commissioner went with the mother to Target to buy her a crib.
“It really affected me,” Cotham said. “That was the first time I had ever asked that question because I wasn’t educated enough for it.”
At 86 percent, the leading cause of infant deaths was “natural causes,” which include prematurity, low birth weight, maternal complications and birth defects.
Commissioner at-large Trevor Fuller called the risk factors for these child fatalities “social determinants of health.”
“It’s because of questions of income inequality, access to healthcare, access to social capital,” Fuller told Simmons. “Those factors are all interrelated, and the consequences are what you’re reporting today. We are losing children because we have these deficits of economic opportunity. It’s more than just about money. It’s actually about life and death ultimately.”